Sunday, 18 January 2009

How to be a District Education Offocer

January 13th and 14th

Tuesday and Wednesday follow the same pattern. Up at half past five; out of the flat by half past six, and on the seven o’clock bus to Kigali. Everybody working for the bus company recognises me, and it makes for a relaxed start to the day.

All during the days we work hard at our “How to….” book. By the end of Tuesday we’ve finished the text; Wednesday is for copying it and compiling and making forty copies of the CDs of back-up materials. Three of us have new laptops with Windows Vista, which is very different from XP and takes a lot of getting used to. The air is blue for a while until we find our way round the CD copying software!

Amanda has finished her volunteering spell in Rwamagana but has just landed a job in Zanzibar. She is pretty well the most “Africanised” of all the volunteers; I really think she’d find it enormously difficult to slot back into American life if she went home.

As the days pass we learn more details about the primary curriculum changes. Tronc Commun (the first three years of secondary school) will now be free; only the second three years will be fee paying. French is not just being dropped as a medium of instruction, it seems that it not even to be taught at any level in schools. That is an enormous change and will be so, so difficult for primary schools to take on board. The public exams at the end of primary year six, my main yardstick for assessing school performance, are being abolished and the only formal exam will be after nine years at school (the end of the “Basic Education”).

During Wednesday Tiga and Michael both arrive from Europe, and Antonia who after three years working with deaf children at Butare is coming back to do a new project near Kibuye in the Western province. She’s another thoroughly “Africanised” volunteer, but one of the most experienced ones still in the country and it’s lovely to have her back.

On Tuesday evening Tom and I dine at Soraya’s; she’s doing a special Philippine meal in honour of Matteo. Matteo is a young Italian teenager who has been doing a spell of volunteering with the Franciscan community at Kivumu. He’s a lovely lad and we are going to miss him. I still find it difficult to get used to that aspect of being a volunteer - it is a game of constant comings and goings, and just as you get to know somebody really well and appreciate them, they leave for home. Matteo’s an adventurous soul; he took himself off along into the Congo over Christmas. He went to Bukavu and bought a ticket on the lake steamer towards Gisenyi. This is a very long journey, at least a full day. Unfortunately the steamer’s engine broke down, and its cargo of potatoes had to be jettisoned. The children on the ferry had the time of their lives throwing mountains of potatoes overboard to lighten the load and help the first boat which came to rescue them.

We haven’t had any proper rain all this week; it feels as if the rainy season has properly ended at last. Immediately this is the case, the roads get covered in a layer of fine dust, and you can already feel it between your teeth after walking along earth lanes.

Surreal sight of the day on Tuesday – a pick up truck speeding through Kigali town centre with a Christmas tree – still fully decorated – being disposed of by one of the main town centre shops.

Impressive sight on Wednesday – traffic slows to a crawl on the main road near Parliament house, and a high speed convoy rushes past with President K in a Range Rover. I could see him quite clearly. That’s my second sighting since I arrived here. And I’ve never ever seen a British Prime Minister in the flesh!

Yet another bad road crash on Wednesday morning. I think a lorry’s brakes must have failed on one of the steepest hills on the Kigali road; the wagon is on its side with the cab mangled beyond recognition. Poverty - and the inability to afford proper maintenance – almost certainly claims another life.

Looking ahead, I talk to Paula and suggest a combined Bruce’s birthday bash and St Patrick’s day celebration in march, just like the one we had last year. I tell everyone to keep the weekend of the 14th clear, and Paula’s going to sound out the rest of the Irish contingent which is far greater than last year. There Rwanda Irish society is planning some flash event the following weekend, but tickets for it will cost around 35000 francs and its being held in the Serena Hotel. I think the price will put some people off, and hopefully they’ll come to my do at Gahini instead!

I’ve downloaded a set of pictures from Joe who is our first volunteer in Nyamasheke. He has had a difficult start, coping with isolation and a house so small you could barely get inside the door – more like a monk’s cell. But now he has a nice modern house and a view across the lake to die for! I’m going to post some of his Nyamasheke pictures because, although I haven’t been there (yet), it’ll show you just how beautiful parts of Lake Kivu shore can be!

Best thing about these two days – getting our “How to “ offering complete.

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